Bend it like Steph: She's paid just 16,000 a year but – eat your heart out, Beckham – she's GB's Olympic football sensation
Stephanie Houghton has scored in each of GB's three Olympic women's football matches
07:40 GMT, 3 August 2012
Off duty: Stephanie Houghton showing her glamorous side when not playing for Team GB
While Premier League stars park their supercars outside multi-million-pound mansions, Stephanie Houghton earns just 16,000 a year, shares a house with three girls and drives a Vauxhall Corsa.
But the new sensation of women’s football is too busy enjoying her sport to be envious of her cosseted male counterparts.
‘The money doesn’t bother me – I just want to play football,’ the blonde 24-year-old told the Mail.
Although she is a defender, Miss Houghton has scored in all three matches for Great Britain, helping the team to win their group.
And today she will try to maintain her goal-a-game record when the team take on Canada in the quarter-finals at Coventry before a sell-out crowd.
Miss Houghton became an instant celebrity after scoring the winner against Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday watched by a crowd of 70,000 – the biggest ever for a women’s football match in England.
Such an audience would have been unthinkable a month ago, when many mocked the decision to kick-start the Olympics with women’s football and predicted half-empty stadiums.
But Miss Houghton has helped to give the sport a prominence never seen before. Her followers on Twitter have soared from a couple of thousand to 20,556 in just a week and she has been declared the new poster girl for women’s football.
The former shop assistant from County Durham is, however, not about to let her success go to her head.
‘I don’t actually know what’s happening at the moment,’ she said. ‘I am as surprised as anybody else, to be honest. The last week or so has just been amazing, absolutely unreal.
‘If somebody had told me before the tournament that I would score three times I would have told them they were having a laugh. It is just what every footballer dreams of.’
Miss Houghton grew up in the former mining village of South Hetton, close to where the dance film Billy Elliot was shot, with posters of Michael Owen and David Beckham on her wall.
This week she met Beckham in person. Her mother Amanda, 47, a civil servant, told the Mail: ‘She sent me a text saying, “He’s perfect, Mum, he’s absolutely perfect”.
‘I told her that no man is perfect and she just said, “He is, Mum. He’s perfect”.’ Although she made Team GB – unlike Beckham – Miss Houghton can only dream of a lifestyle like his. Her 16,000 salary comes from England while she receives only expenses from her current club, Arsenal.
Three games, three goals: Scoring against Brazil during Great Britain's first round football match against Brazil at Wembley
Celebration time: Steph takes in the Wembley atmosphere after she helped Team GB beat Brazil on Tuesday
Her shared home is close to the club’s training ground in London Colney, Hertfordshire.
But if she is disappointed by her lifestyle, she doesn’t show it.
She told the Mail: ‘It’s not comparable to the men’s game and it shouldn’t be: this is a completely different game.’
As a teenager, she watched Bend It Like Beckham ‘over and over again’, but her story also has more than a passing resemblance to 1981 film Gregory’s Girl, in which a teenage girl plays for a boys’ football team.
Growing up: Aged eight, with four-year-old brother Stuart, and right, a star of the future at six months
She was given her first football at the age of three and, when she started primary school, became the only girl on the team.
Her father Len, 47, an electrician, recalled how a boy’s parents were furious when their son was left out of the team in favour of her.
He said: ‘They said she was the token girl and she shouldn’t have been picked at all. They said, “What’s she playing for, this is a boys’ game”
‘Steph went on to score two goals in that match and someone said, “That’s why she was playing”.’
Number one fans: With grandmother Doreen and brother Stuart last year
At the age of nine, during a summer coaching camp run by Sunderland FC, she was spotted by a talent scout and joined the academy. She made her debut for the women’s team at 14 and moved on to Leeds United before signing for Arsenal in 2010.
Her mother joked: ‘We tried to convert her into a girl but we couldn’t. She never had a doll or a pram. It was always just a football.’
Mr Houghton said: ‘The world is now her oyster. But she’s very level-headed and her feet are well and truly on the ground.
‘The Olympics will be over in a week for her and she’ll just head back to Arsenal and carry on as normal.’
Miss Houghton, who is single, said she had been inundated with messages from well-wishers. ‘The support I’ve had from family and friends has been unreal. My family always travel down and watch me play – and bring my grandma.’